Volume 75, Number 22 | October 19 - 22, 2005

Big turnout for hearing on new historic districts

By Albert Amateau

Village advocates and elected officials supporting the designation of two new West Village historic districts filled the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing chamber Tuesday.

All the chairs were taken, people sat on the floor in the aisle and the antechamber was full of preservation advocates trying to hear the Oct. 18 proceedings.

“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at a Landmarks hearing and I’ve been coming to them for 15 years,” said Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who was one of more than 20 people who spoke at the hearing.

Advocates in favor of the proposed new Weehawken St. Historic District and the westward extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District praised the commission for moving the designation process closer to reality so soon after the City Council approved a rezoning to keep the low-rise character of the West Village.

Nevertheless, almost all were disappointed that the proposed historic districts were not larger and that favorite buildings like the four-story Superior Ink factory on West St. and a former 18th-century stable at 389 W. 12th St. were not being considered for designation.

But they urged the commissioners to vote as soon as possible on the designations to prevent what they fear is imminent development out of character with the two districts

Robert Tierney, commission chairperson, said the commission would continue to work on the issue, but he did not indicate when a designation vote would take place. Tierney singled out City Councilmember Christine Quinn and Berman for their contribution to the commission’s research and outreach on the districts.

Not all the testimony, however, was in favor of the two districts. Susan Aaron, owner of 689 Washington St., said her home and the homes of her neighbors at 691 and 693 look like 19th-century houses but were actually built in 1979. She wanted her house cut out of the district. “What if I want to change a window or an entrance? Would the commission hold me to the standards of a really historic building?” she asked.

Seth Levine, a Weehawken St. homeowner, said the scale of the narrow street is already protected by the West Village downzoning and urged rejection of the district. He also said landmarking is not appropriate because drug users and other antisocial people dominate the street at night.

But other homeowners in the area, including Judith Stonehill and Kathleen Schoonover, urged designation of the full districts as proposed by the commission.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said she supports the proposals but insisted they do not go far enough. “Too much has been left out; too little is preserved,” she said, adding, “We’ll continue to fight for landmarks protection for all of the West Village.”

Councilmember Quinn, former Councilmember Carol Greitzer, State Senator Tom Duane, Albert Bennett of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force and Frank Sanchez, director of the Municipal Art Society, spoke in favor of the districts. Doris Diether, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee, and Christabel Gough, founder of the Society for the Architecture of the City, also were in favor of the districts but wanted further landmark designation in the West Village.

The Greenwich Village Historic District Extension, with 36 buildings, is between Greenwich and Washington Sts. from Christopher to Perry Sts., with a cutout at Washington St. on the south side of Charles St.

The other proposed district, centered on Weehawken St., has 14 buildings between Christopher St. and the north side of W. 10th St.

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